It is a rare thing to find a church that refers to itself as "confessional" and I can understand why. It sounds old and archaic when churches today want to be known for being up-to-date and relevant. It sounds like we are binding our consciences to the words of man rather than simply being "people of the Book." Besides, if a church were to promote themselves as a "confessional" church, the response of most Christians would be "What does that even mean?" Well, we at CRBC are confessional (we abide by the 2nd London Baptist Confession) and if that statement elicits confusion for you I commend to you this previous blog post. Before you go there, however, I suggest you read the anecdote below as it may be of help to you in getting over any initial resistance to the concept of confessionalism and prepare your heart and mind to better understand what you will read in that post.
For those of you who understand and embrace the idea of being a part of a confessional church, this story will only help make you more confident in that conviction and will provide a very helpful illustration for when you converse with others who have never considered such a thing.
This story comes from Samuel Miller's book "The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions." It concerns the Council of Nicaea and their dealing with Arius' heretical views of the divinity of Christ. Arius was a priest in Alexandria, Egypt who lived from the late 200's into the early 300's AD. Arius taught that there was a time when only God the Father existed and His first act of creation was to create the Son of God. When Emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Arius' views were a main topic of discussion. Today, both Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses hold to forms of what has come to be known as Arianism.
"When the Council entered on the examination of the subject (referring to Arius' views), it was found extremely difficult to obtain from Arius any satisfactory explanation of his views. He was not only as ready as the most orthodox divine present to profess that he believed the Bible; but he also declared himself willing to adopt, as his own, all the language of the Scriptures, in detail, concerning the person and character of the blessed Redeemer. But when the members of the Council wished to ascertain in what sense he understood this language, he discovered a disposition to evade and equivocate, and actually, for a considerable time, baffled the attempts of the most ingenious of the orthodox to specify his errors, and to bring them to light. He declared that he was perfectly willing to employ the popular language on the subject in controversy, and wished to have it believed that he differed very little from the body of the church. Accordingly the orthodox went over the various titles of Christ plainly expressive of divinity, such as "God" - "the true God", the "express image of God", etc.- to every one of which Arius and his followers most readily subscribed- claiming a right, however, to put their own construction on the scriptural tides in question. After employing much time and ingenuity in vain, in endeavoring to drag this artful thief from his lurking places, and to obtain from him an explanation of his views, the Council found it would be impossible to accomplish their object as long as they permitted him to entrench himself behind a mere general profession of belief in the Bible. They, therefore, did, what common sense, as well as the Word of God, had taught the church to do in all preceding times, and what alone can enable her to detect the artful advocate of error. They expressed, in their own language, what they supposed to be the doctrine of Scripture concerning the divinity of the Savior; in other words, they drew up a Confession of Faith on this subject, which they called upon Arius and his disciples to subscribe. This the heretics refused: and were thus virtually brought to the acknowledgement that they did not understand the Scriptures as the rest of the Council understood them, and, of course, that the charge against them was correct" (from the 1987 reprint edition, pgs. 33-35).
If you have ever spoken to a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness, you become immediately aware that they are, indeed, disciples of Arius as they have learned his craft of evading and equivocating.
This story is a great illustration of why confessions are important and why you should seriously consider whether or not you should be a member of church that is not confessional (and I mean a solid, tested and detailed confession). The truth is that every church subscribes to some sort of confession (or creed). Some have a general statement of "What We Believe" posted on their website. Some will declare "No creed but the Bible!" and leave it at that. Either way, they are both confessing that they believe something. Both have a creed (watch this hilarious video that makes this point so well). But what is it that their creed/confession consists of? Do you really know? As the story of Arius illustrates, one can say that they affirm every word contained in the Bible and yet not be orthodox in their belief. I remember back in seminary one of my professors said that he was a "three-point Calvinist as long as you allow me to define the terms." Now whether or not one is a Calvinist is not a matter of orthodoxy, but it does make the point. "As long as I define the terms" is too often the snake lurking in the grass that will bite you if you are not wise enough to flush it out of hiding. For that professor to define the terms, would be to render his statement "I am a three-point Calvinist" meaningless (putting aside for the moment that claiming to be a three-point Calvinist in the first place is inconsistent at best). That is not how it works. You don't get to redefine terms and then claim to embrace the concepts as they are understood by everyone else. This is deceitful and dishonest.
It is also not safe. It is not enough for a church to say "We believe/teach the Bible." If you join a church that doesn't clearly define what they, in fact, believe the Bible teaches, you put yourself in a perilous position. You not only don't know what they truly believe but you are allowing them a lot of leeway to change what they believe mid-stream whether or not they tell you that they have done so. If you were to try to take them to account, they would simply say "We've always said this is what we believe, we've just fleshed it out a little bit more." If you don't think that happens frequently, you have not been paying attention. Many church members have found themselves shocked when they found that their "solid" church doesn't seem so solid any more. This also affects the way in which churches examine potential members and who they end up allowing to take positions of influence. If there is no set standard for what the church's members should be expected to believe and submit themselves to, then you may find yourself sitting in the pew next to someone who denies the most fundamental tenets of the faith. You may, in fact, find yourself being taught by someone who was picked to teach a class, lead a small group, or any other number of things (perhaps because of a shortage of volunteers) who holds to some really wacky, unorthodox stuff but who has never been challenged on those things. This is not safe for the church, for you, nor your family.
So, find a confessional church. One that tells you clearly what they believe and why. One that makes sure that no one is in a position to teach and influence you or your kids unless they subscribe to teachings that accurately reflect the Word of God has it has been understood by the Church over the ages. If you looking for one, why not come check us out? :)